Online Q+A: Jay Schadler in Middle Earth

N E W   Y O R K, Dec. 10, 2003 -- Ever wonder what it was like on the set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Do you want to learn more about how director Peter Jackson and his crew recreated J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth in the wilds of New Zealand?

Primetime correspondent Jay Schadler got an exclusive look at the last days on the set of the blockbuster films when director Peter Jackson and the huge cast and crew returned to New Zealand this summer to wrap up final shooting.

Schadler spent a day with Jackson and star Viggo Mortensen — as well as untold numbers of orcs, elves and assorted fanciful creatures. He answered questions from ABCNEWS viewers.

Read about Schadler's time on The Lord of the Rings set.

QUESTION: Vince Williams of Fort Wayne, Ind., says: "I believe the one thing that was a constant theme throughout the trilogy being made was the wonderful relationships that have formed between the cast members. How much did you sense this during your time there? Have you ever seen this occur in other films?"

ANSWER: There is no question in my mind that the cast and crews truly became a close family — closer than on most movies, certainly. The isolation in such a beautiful place lent itself to bonding, but so did the movies' subject matter. These people were spellbound by the story and felt a real connection to the power of the films/books. Every one of the cast members told me they understood they were experiencing a once in a lifetime phenomenon.

Q: Rita Hinman of The Dalles, Ore., asks: "How were you selected for this commission out of all of ABC's excellent field reporters? Was this assignment one that you will remember throughout your career?"

A: I have been a correspondent with ABC for a long time — 23 years now — so my relationship with the producers goes back a bit. In this case, I had done a previous story with producer Kate Harrington and when she asked if I would be interested in The Lord of the Rings, I jumped at the chance. I had been a big Tolkien fan in college and so it seemed a natural. Plus, the interviews were going to be loose, and on the fly … get the director here, run into the actors' trailer there, back over to the set and catch Serkis [Andy Serkis, the actor who played Gollum] getting into character, etc. That's the way I like to work, so it was a natural. And I was lucky to be involved.

Q: Jennifer of Calgary, Alberta, asks: "After spending the time in New Zealand getting an inside view on Middle Earth, don't you wish you had gotten the chance to play a character? Which one would you be — elf, dwarf, man or orc?"

A: I would choose to be a hobbit. I love those cozy houses! Plus, they got their priorities straight — home, family food and drink … with a little adventure on the side.

Q: Amy of Tracy, Calif., says: "I read that Peter Jackson may do the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, meaning The Hobbit, after he finishes the remake of King Kong. Any hints from Peter about this?"

A: Peter told me he very much wants to do The Hobbit after King Kong but they are having a hard time getting the rights to the books.

Q: Jodi Diminick in Savoy, Ill., asks: "Why do people like Orlando Bloom so much? To girls, it's the most IMPORTANT question. Is it his eyes or his wig? Or just his personality?"

A: I'm probably not the best person to ask. Now, my daughter would say it's the whole package — face, eyes, hair and personality.

Q: Jennifer Berning of Arena, Wis., asks: "I was wondering why there was no mention of John Rhys-Davies, who plays Gimli, during your special. I was curious to find out how they could make a six-foot-plus man into a dwarf for the movie."

A: They had a fella on the set named Paul … he was well over 7 feet tall (Tall Paul). Anyway, he was often called upon to be in scenes with Gimli or the hobbits. They would dress him up as, say, Gandalf, then shoot him from behind with Gimli in front. The sheer size difference made Gimli and the hobbits look tiny. At one point they even had him dress in Arwen's beautiful clothes!

Q: Mary Kidd from Lakewood, Colo., says: "I am fascinated with the actors' voices and accents, having seen the first two movies several times. Did you notice that they spoke the same way off screen or do they sound like all the rest of us ordinary folk?"

A: It seemed to me they did not change voices very much … what you heard is what you got. Except of course for Gollum!

Q: Mark Larner in Austin, Texas, says : "I was curious how Peter Jackson kept the natural film locations secret from the public. Did anyone discover one of the locations during filming? And finally, with so many people working on the film, how did Jackson and his crew keep track of who belonged with the set and who didn't?"

A: They have a whole group of people assigned to both security and staff coordination. Plus the New Zealand locals are naturally a polite bunch … not likely to crash sets or lots.

Q: Philippe Lopez in Mooresville, N.C., asks: "What will happen to all the props, sets, and costumes that have accumulated during the filming of LOTR? Will the studio keep them all or sell them to the public?"

A: A little of both. Some things are being sold, others being taken as souvenirs by the cast and crew … a few preserved by Jackson and WETA craftsmen. [WETA is the name of the special effects house that worked on the movie.] Of course, much of it will simply be dismantled.

Q: Jane in Horsham, Pa., asks: "What was the atmosphere of Wellington during the reshoots? Were the Kiwis generally excited yet respectful of the work being done? Were they fanatic about the movies as they were being shot? Is the city an 'open' one, where the cast and crew could stroll about without a swarm of fans attacking them?"

A: New Zealanders (Kiwis) are great. Yes, they are naturally a very respectful people and gave the cast and crew "space." It's such a beautiful and comfortable city. The cast — even the big stars — could easily live and work without being pestered. They all had their favorite restaurants of course.

Q: Michelle Schoofs from Milwaukee asks: "If there was one thing that you would have liked to see, done or been involved with while on the set but did not have the opportunity to do so, what would it have been?"

A: I truly enjoyed sitting around the table with these guys and sharing their stories and a beer. I have always felt as a correspondent the best interviews are to be found in natural easygoing environments — a bar being a perfect one. (As I discovered during my hitchhiking days, the front seat of a car is another.) So anyway, that barroom scene carried some very honest conversation about their feelings for each other and the movie. Special effects stuff is interesting, but give me a heart and a story.